previous next

Chapter 19:

  • Life in camp during January and February.
  • -- an English visitor. -- ride to a wedding. -- a new English visitor. -- a fortnight at Culpepper Court-house. -- fight at Kelley's Ford. -- Pelham's death and funeral honours in Richmond. -- breaking — up of winter quarters.

With the New Year set in a continuance of bad weather.

The cold increased, snow and damp alternated in rapid succession, and our poor animals continued exposed to the severest hardships. As for my own plight, I had returned to my large tent, where I managed by a variety of ingenious shifts, the offspring of hard necessity, to surround myself with not a few practical comforts. A planked floor was laid down, and over it was spread the rough resemblance of a carpet in the shape of a large square of old canvass; a packing-case which had served for the despatch of saddlery from the ordnance department did duty very efficiently for a bedstead; and with an empty whisky-cask, which, by sawing down on one side to within a foot of the floor, stuffing the bottom with blankets, and leaving only so much of the upper portion as would comfortably support the back, became a capital easychair, my assemblage of “sticks” was by no means contemptible. With the inward man, however, matters began to assume [348] a very unsatisfactory condition. While the Christmas provision could be still eked out, we got on well enough, though at the cost of many an alarm sounded by the vigilant Bob, and many a hurried night-chase given to the Texan marauders to preserve the turkeys, while any yet survived, to our own use. But when the last of these interesting animals had in due turn adorned the mess-table, the dearth of food which thereafter ensued and continued was most painfully felt by officers and men. The almost invariable message with which our negroes returned from the commissary was, “Nothing to be had;” and when by an extraordinary chance they were enabled to bring back some sort of supplies, these consisted of beef so tough or bacon so rancid that only the sharpest pangs of hunger could induce a human being to tackle it as food. By using bullets cut into small pieces as a substitute for shot, I managed to bring down with my gun a number of small birds, such as blackbirds, robins, and sparrows, and so to purvey a certain modicum of fresh animal food, but so limited that there was never enough to satisfy the whole company; and often would four or five small birds appear at our long mess-table, to be divided among twelve hungry men, for any one of whom they would have been but a scanty meal. On one occasion a windfall came to us from the Lower Rappahannock (called the Tappahannock), in the shape of a waggon-load of oysters. These we fed on with great relish for a few days; but, being destitute of salt, pepper, or butter, or any condiment that might replace them, they soon palled, and a delicacy which would have been prized, under other circumstances, beyond all expression, became so nauseous that the very sight of an oyster turned us sick.

It was a tantalising fact, in the midst of our famine, to know that a flock of sheep existed in the neighbourhood, the property of an old planter, who, however, obstinately refused to part with one of them except at the most exorbitant price. [349] No entreaties in the world could induce the obdurate old gentleman to abate his demands; and the consequence was, that he ultimately suffered for his greed in the manner we are about to relate. Day after day these sheep would be found straying about our camp, attracted by the fodder of our horses, which was not a little diminished by their felonious nibblings. We had the greatest trouble to prevent these depredations; and, moreover, the sight to our hungry eyes of fat loins enriched at our expense, but on which we were prohibited to feed, added insult to injury. After sending several warnings to the old flockmaster, our couriers hit upon a cunning device, which should at once rid them of a nuisance and procure them delicious mutton. Deep trenches were dug wherever the sheep were in the habit of trespassing, ostensibly for the protection of our provender; and these, being covered with pine branches and straw, became so many pitfalls into which the poor animals tumbled, rolling over and over, and seldom escaping without such injuries as necessitated their immediate slaughter. The accident was then notified, not without bitter complaints, to the proprietor, who, having himself no use for the entire carcass, would make the best of the matter by selling us the greater part of the meat; and this mode of purveying mutton lasted till the old planter was persuaded to take better care of his flock.

In spite of deficient food, scanty supply of blankets, and extreme scarcity of shoe-leather, in the midst of the most trying weather, the good spirits of the army were unabated. Joyous sounds of song and laughter broke forth continuously from amidst the camps, and the bands of all the different regiments played merrily every evening. A theatre even was erected, where the performances of negro minstrels and other entertainments afforded immense delight to officers and men, and attracted all the young ladies of the neighbourhood. About the middle of the month some interruption to the [350] usual monotonous routine of our camp was made by the visit of Colonel Bramston, of the battalion of Grenadier Guards stationed in Canada, with whom I, with great pleasure, shared the accommodation of my tent. The shortness of his furlough, however, deprived us of his presence a few days after his arrival. Just at this time a pressing invitation came to the General and myself from our friends at Dundee, in Hanover County, where Dr P.‘s eldest daughter was to be married to Dr Fontaine, one of our comrades then acting as surgeon to Fitz Lee's brigade. That we could accept it seemed impossible; for on the very same day a review of William Lee's command was ordered to take place near Moss-Neck, Jackson's headquarters, and the distance thence to our friend's house was not less than five-and-forty miles. Nevertheless, to leave still a chance open, and hoping I might persuade Stuart to undertake the ride, I sent a courier with a relay of horses to Bowling-Green, a village about half-way between Moss-Neck and the spot we were to reach. It seemed as if the review would never be over; hour after hour flitted by, till at last it was a quarter to three by the time all was over, when Stuart rode over to me, and called out with a laugh, “Well, Von! How about the wedding? Shall we go?” Without hesitation I declared myself ready, only observing that as the wedding ceremony was appointed at seven o'clock we should have some difficulty in being present. “Oh, that's nothing.” rejoined the General-“let's be off.” And away we started at the rate of ten miles an hour. Bowling-Green was reached in capital time, where we mounted our relays; and before the clock struck the appointed hour of seven we rode through the gate of the hospitable Dundee.

A joyful and most demonstrative reception awaited us, for our arrival had been given up; and though our high ridingbootings covered with mud, and splashed uniforms, presented a contrast to the elegant dresses of the ladies and the [351] correct costumes of the gentlemen, the favour with which we were regarded was none the less marked. Stuart was in his element, and the gayest of the gay. When the ceremony was over we amused ourselves with music, songs, and tableaux vivants. In one of the latter I had the honour of performing a prominent part in conjunction with a very pretty young lady, Miss Antoinette P., with whom it was my pleasing office to form a group imitating the coat of arms of the State of Virginia, bearing the motto, Sic semper tyrannis, which the soldiers translated, “Take your foot off my neck,” from the action of the principal figure in the group in question, representing Liberty, who, with a lance in her right hand, is standing over the conquered and prostrate tyrant, and apparently trampling on him with her heel. To play the part of the poor tyrant who is suffering this ill-treatment, as it was my lot to do, would, I confess, under ordinary circumstances, offer but little gratification even to the most humbly disposed; but when the avenging goddess of Liberty is beautiful, and spurns you with a foot of such small proportions as in this case, the position of the conquered party is one of comparative triumph and felicity. Our performance gave as much satisfaction to the spectators as it certainly did to myself; and as for the General, his enthusiasm appeared excessive, for he insisted on having the tableau repeated several times; but it turned out that this was pure benevolence towards me, for he rallied me afterwards, saying he was sure I wanted to be sic semper. At last daylight streaming through the jalousies gave the signal for our party to break up, and seek the rest of which I myself felt in extreme want.

Doleful in my ears was the sound of Stuart's voice ordering our horses, and welcome was the rain which soon after poured down in torrents and caused Stuart's iron will to give way and yield to the urgent solicitations of our host to remain through the day, which, gloomy as it continued outside, did [352] not damp the gaiety with which within doors the hours were wiled away till deep in the night, when we took leave of the company, and just as they were retiring comfortably to rest, set off on our long ride through the dark, chill, rainy morning. About half-way home we were met by a courier with a message informing us that the enemy had been making serious demonstrations on the river between Fredericksburg and Port Royal; so, urging our steeds to a quicker pace, we made all haste to gain headquarters, and it was still quite early in the morning when, having reached our destination, we found that the heavy rain had conveniently impeded the movements and altered the intention of the Yankees, among whom all again was quiet.

Towards the end of the month we received the visit of another Englishman, Captain Bushby, who turned out a warm admirer of Confederate principles, and a stanch sympathiser with the cause; and though he made but a short stay with us, ere he left he had become a general favourite at headquarters. Captain Bushby had just run the blockade into Charleston, after an exciting chase by the Federal cruisers, and could only spare a few days to look at our army and make acquaintance with its most conspicuous leaders, for several of whom he had brought very acceptable presents. To General Lee he presented an English saddle of the best make, to General Stuart a breech-loading carbine, while for Jackson he had provided himself with an india-rubber bed. For the presentation of this last article I escorted him to old Stonewall's headquarters; and on the ride an occasion befell me of astonishing my English friend and myself not a little, by a wonderful shot with my revolver, bringing down, as we galloped along, a turkey buzzard flying high overhead. I must confess I was vain enough to assume the air of treating the extraordinary success of this shot as a matter quite of course, whereas it was much more the result of accident than good [353] shooting. Jackson received us with all his usual affability, and was much pleased with the present, promising to use it regularly. During the conversation which ensued, Captain Bushby asked the General for his autograph — a request which was at once granted; but in the act of writing, a blot fell on the paper, which was immediately thrown on the floor as useless. Bushby, however, picked it up and carefully treasured it in his pocket; and Jackson, noticing this action, said, with a modest smile, “Oh Captain, if you value my simple signature so much, I will give you a number of them with the greatest pleasure,” and thereupon filled a large sheet with his sign-manual and presented it to him.

The condition of our horses continued to grow worse and worse, especially in Hampton's brigade, on which was imposed the fatiguing duty of picketing nearly forty miles of the Rappahannock, with very few opportunities of procuring provisions. In consequence of this state of things, I was ordered, in the commencement of February, by Stuart to proceed in that direction on a tour of inspection. It was a mournful sight to see more than half the horses of this splendid command totally unfit for duty, dead and dying animals lying about the camps in all directions. One regiment had lost thirty-one horses in less than a week. According to the recommendation of my report, Fitz Lee's brigade, which for months had been having a comparatively good time, was at once ordered to relieve Hampton's command; and Stuart wishing personally to hold a final inspection of the two brigades, Pelham, Lieutenant Price, and myself, were on the 17th ordered to proceed to Culpepper, where the General and the rest of his Staff would join us next day. We set off in the midst of a snow-storm, which increased in violence every hour. The snow ere long lay a foot deep, and the track of the road was soon so completely obliterated, that we stood in danger in the midst of the vast wilderness and forest tract, [354] which in that part of the country extends for many miles, of being lost altogether. At last, however, just as night was falling, we reached the house of a free negro, situated about ten miles from our ultimate destination. Both ourselves and our horses were now about equally near exhaustion, and further progress being out of the question, we determined to seek shelter in this abode until the morning. But the hospitality we had reckoned on was not granted so readily as we had anticipated. After gaining, through the open door, a glimpse of a comfortable interior lit up by the blaze of a huge wood-fire, whose friendly warmth seemed almost at that distance to reach our shivering limbs, what was our dismay at being suddenly shut out from this paradise, and having the door slammed in our faces, with the remark on the part of the black-faced proprietor of the mansion, that he would have “nothing to do with no stragglers.”

Our disappointment was utter, for the position we were thus left in was, in fact, desperate, and for some minutes we stood wrapt in disconsolate silence. At last Pelham broke out: “This won't do at all; we can't possibly go on: to remain out of doors in this terrible weather is certain destruction; and as we are under the obligation of preserving our lives as long as possible, for the sake of our cause and our country, I am going to fool this stupid old nigger, and play a trick off on him, which I think quite pardonable under the circumstances.” Having by repeated loud knocks induced the inhospitable negro to reopen the door, he addressed him thus: “Mr Madden” (this was the man's name), “you don't know what a good friend of yours I am, or what you are doing when you are about to treat us in this way. That gentleman there” (pointing to me) “is the great General Lee himself; the other one is the French ambassador just arrived from Washington” (this alluded to Price, who, being lately from Europe, and much better equipped than the rest, had rather a foreign [355] appearance); “and I am a staff-officer of the General's, who is quite mad at being kept waiting outside so long after riding all this way on purpose to see you. In fact, if you let him stay any longer here in the cold, I'm afraid he'll shell your house as soon as his artillery comes up.” The old negro was so perfectly staggered by this long harangue, which was uttered with a perfectly serious countenance, that he immediately invited us in, with all manner of excuses for his mistake. Our horses were soon sheltered in an empty stable, and such a feed of corn was laid before them as they had not had for a long time, while we dried our garments before the blazing wood-fire, our present sense of comfort being enhanced by anticipations of the future raised by the savoury odours which reached us from the kitchen, where Mr Madden was superintending in person the preparation of a repast suited to the distinguished rank of his guests. Pelham was delighted at the success of his diplomatic ruse, and went on hoaxing the old negro in the same strain, till nothing could persuade him that all he had been told was not quite true; and though in the morning we endeavoured to undeceive him, and paid him a liberal indemnity for the stratagem, he continued to inflate himself with a sense of his own importance at having been honoured with a visit from such distinguished guests.

We reached Hampton's headquarters, near Culpepper Court-house, before noon, where we met Stuart; and in the evening we all went by invitation to the village, where Fitz Lee's men had got up a negro-minstrel entertainment, and, with the assistance of Sweeney and Bob, succeeded in giving us a performance which would have rivalled any in London. Next day Stuart started for Richmond, accompanied by his Staff, leaving Pelham and myself, with some of our couriers, at Culpepper. We took up our quarters at the large Virginia Hotel, where we had the satisfaction of having our horses once more well stabled, and our own comfort cared for in [356] every possible way by the stout landlady, who seemed bent on showing her gratitude for some service we had rendered her son, a private in Fitz Lee's brigade.

Culpepper Court-house is a pleasant village of several hundred inhabitants, and the main street, in which we were located, is lined with pretty villa-like residences. The street itself, however, was without pavement, and the constant snow and rain had soaked into the red clayey soil so completely that the mud was several feet deep, and the passage of any vehicle through it being out of the question, we were literally confined to our own side of the street. To overcome this inconvenience Pelham and I set to work to construct a sort of bridge, by resting planks on a number of blocks of stone, and by this means we were enabled to pay frequent visits to the house of our opposite neighbour, Mr S., where we were treated with great kindness, and our time passed pleasantly away. A constant visitor, like ourselves, at this house was Major Eales of Rosser's regiment, who, being just released from a Yankee prison, and still on parole, relished the gaiety of our society with peculiar zest. The fortune of war played sad havock with this happy trio. Poor Pelham expired not many weeks after in the very house where he had so pleasantly spent his time; and in a few months Eales was killed on the day before I myself received a wound which at the time was regarded as mortal.

Although we expected Stuart back in a few days, it was a fortnight before we heard from him, when we received a telegram ordering us back to headquarters at Fredericksburg. We felt very sad at leaving pleasant old Culpepper, and the hardships and monotony of our camp life fell on us the more heavily after an interval of comparative ease and abundance. The remnant of February and a part of March dragged slowly by, so dull and eventless that existence was scarcely tolerable, and we looked forward to the commencement of spring and [357] the reopening of the campaign with intense longing. On the 15th of March Stuart left for Culpepper, where he had to appear as a witness at a court-martial; and Pelham, who was very anxious to see our lady friends there again, accompanied him — a pleasure which I was not allowed to share, as the General had placed me in charge over the pickets at the different fords up the Rappahannock, from Fredericksburg to the mouth of the Rapidan. On the morning of the 17th, which was one of those mild, hazy March days that betoken the approach of spring, we were suddenly stirred up, in the midst of our lazy, listless existence, by the sound of a cannonade which seemed to come from the direction of United States Ford on the Rappahannock, about ten miles above Fredericksburg. I was in my saddle in a moment, fancying that the enemy was attempting to force a passage at one of the points placed under my charge; but when I had galloped in hot haste up to the river, I found that the firing was much further off, and, as it seemed to me, towards the mouth of the Rapidan. This supposition proved to be correct, for when I reached my pickets I received a report that a heavy fight was going on in the direction of Culpepper Court-house, near Kelley's Ford, at least fifteen miles in a straight line higher up the river. The cannonade, which seemed growing louder and fiercer all through the morning, gradually slackened as the day advanced, and in the evening, when I returned to camp, was completely silenced.

The country bordering the Rappahannock is covered with dense forest, whence it has justly acquired the name of the Wilderness, and in many places it presents scenes of wild and romantic beauty. It is not traversed by regular roads, but a number of small bride-paths wind through the tangled undergrowth of laurels and brambles, which, interlacing with the vines and creepers that hang down from the larger trees, form thickets which no human being could penetrate. It was [358] a beautiful calm evening, the silence of which was broken only by the song of the thrush or the monotonous tapping of the woodpecker-one of those evenings that seem made for a melancholy and sentimental mood; and, strange to say, by such a mood was I now completely overcome, my thoughts constantly reverting to my dear friend Pelham, with an obstinate foreboding that some dreadful fate must have befallen him.

A trifling incident occurred near headquarters which happened to amuse me, and sufficed to divert my thoughts from their melancholy course. On my way towards the river I had consulted a sturdy farmer as to a short cut, and now, on my return, I met him again; but as I had since our first meeting taken off my cloak and tied it to the saddle, the old fellow did not recognise me as his morning's acquaintance, and accosted me thus: “Have you met a fellow on the road in a big overcoat, and riding a horse something like yours? He asked me some questions, and talked very like a Dutchman. My notion is he's nothing more than a d-d Yankee spy.” Whereupon I informed him that I was the identical person; but nothing could persuade him of this, for he now vowed I had no Dutch accent at all, in fact, complimented me on my excellent English pronunciation. So I left him to his obstinate conviction, and continued my route to the camp, which I reached shortly after dark.

Next morning, about an hour before daylight, I was roused from my slumbers by hearing some one riding up to my tent, and startled out of bed by the voice of one of the couriers Stuart had taken with him, who, with much agitation of manner, reported that the General had been engaged with Fitz Lee's brigade in a sanguinary battle against far superior numbers of the enemy, and had beaten them, but at the cost of many lives, and among them that of Pelham, the gallant chief of our horse-artillery. Poor Pelham! He had but just [359] received his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and now met his death in a comparatively small engagement, after passing safely through so many great battles. Being on a visit of pleasure, he had been taken unprepared, and, at the first sound of the cannon, hastened unarmed, on a horse borrowed from Sweeney, to the field of action. His batteries had not come up to answer the enemy's cannon, but his ardour would not allow him to wait for their arrival, and he rushed forward into the thickest of the fight, cheering on our men and animating them by his example. When one of our regiments advancing to charge was received with such a terrible fire by the enemy as to cause it to waver, Pelham galloped up to them, shouting, “Forward, boys! Forward to victory and glory!” and at the same moment a fragment of a shell, which exploded close over his head, penetrated the back part of the skull, and stretched the young hero insensible on the ground. He was carried at once to Culpepper, where the young ladies of Mr S.‘s family tended him with sisterly care; but he never again recovered his senses, and the same evening his noble spirit departed. This sad intelligence spread through the whole camp in a few minutes, and the impression of melancholy sorrow it produced on all is beyond description, so liked and admired had Pelham been, and so proud were we of his gallantry. One after the other, comrades entered my tent to hear the confirmation of the dreadful news, which everybody tried as long as possible not to credit. Couriers and negroes assembled outside, all seemingly paralysed by the sudden and cruel calamity; and when morning came, instead of the usual bustling activity and noisy gaiety, a deep and mournful silence reigned throughout the encampment. I was much touched by the behaviour of Pelham's negro servants, Willis and Newton, who, with tokens of the greatest distress, begged to be allowed at once [360] to go and take charge of their master's body — a permission which I was, however, constrained to refuse.

Early in the morning I received a telegram from Stuart ordering me to proceed by the next train to Hanover Junction, there to receive Pelham's body and bring it to Richmond, and then to make all the arrangements necessary to have it conveyed to Alabama, his native State. I started at once and reached the Junction in time to receive the corpse, which, along with several others, was enclosed in a simple wooden case and under the charge of one of our artillerymen, who, with tears in his eyes, gave me the particulars of his gallant commander's death. I did not reach Richmond until late at night, and not finding the hearse, which I had telegraphed to be in readiness, at the station, was obliged to remove the body into the town in a common one-horse waggon. Immediately on arriving I went to Governor Letcher, an old and stanch friend of Stuart's and mine, who kindly afforded all the assistance in his power, and placed a room at my disposal in the Capitol, where the Confederate Congress held its sessions. The coffin was placed in it, covered with the large flag of the State of Virginia, and a guard of honour was placed over it. The next day I procured a handsome iron coffin, and with my own hands assisted in transferring the body to its new receptacle. I was overcome with grief as I touched the lifeless hand that had so often pressed mine in the grasp of friendship. His manly features even in death expressed that fortitude and pride which distinguished him. By special request I had a small glass window let into the coffin-lid just over the face, that his friends and admirers might take a last look at the young hero, and they came in troops, the majority being ladies, who brought garlands and magnificent bouquets to lay upon the coffin. Meantime I had communicated with several members of Congress from Alabama, friends of Pelham's father, and it had been decided that [361] his remains should be conveyed to Alabama in charge of a young soldier, a connection of the family, who had just been released from one of the Richmond hospitals. The afternoon of the following day was appointed for the departure, and at five o'clock we carried the coffin to the station, the Richmond battalion of infantry doing the military honours, and a large number of dignitaries of the Confederate States, friends and comrades, following. Alabama paid as solemn a tribute of respect to her gallant son as he deserved to have shown him. As soon as the frontier of the State was reached, a guard of honour escorted the coffin, and at every station on the road ladies were waiting to adorn it with flowers.

General Stuart arrived in Richmond on the day following, still deeply affected by the loss of his young friend, and greatly grieved that he had not been able to attend the funeral ceremonies. Having obtained leave to remain in Richmond a few days, I saw many of my old friends again, and among them Lawley, through whom I made acquaintance with Prince Polignac, who was serving as a brigadier-general of infantry in the Western Army. On my return to headquarters another sad message came to us, announcing the death of Captain Redmond Burke, who was attached to our Staff. While with a scouting party on the Upper Potomac with two of his sons, he had been imprudent enough to remain during the night at a house close to the enemy's position at Shepherdstown. The Yankees, informed by treachery of his presence, sent a body of cavalry after him, who surrounded the house and summoned the inmates to surrender; but the brave trio sought to break through the compact circle, and in the attempt Burke himself was killed, one son was wounded, and the other taken prisoner. Not long afterwards we heard of the death of Lieutenant Turner, a promising young officer of our Staff, who had been despatched with certain instructions to the well-known guerilla chief Mosby, and had been severely [362] wounded in a skirmish which took place the very day of his arrival. Having been left at a plantation within the enemy's lines, he was in a fair way of recovery, when a small party of Federal cavalry entered the house, tore him from his bed, and so ill-treated the poor fellow that his wounds reopened and he died shortly after. All these misfortunes did not fail to cast a gloom over our little military family; and it was an intense relief to us when, on the 9th of April, we received orders to march to Culpepper Court-house; and the ringing of the bugle sounding to horse and announcing the commencement of a new campaign, with all its wild excitement, raised our spirits once more to the highest pitch.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
John Pelham (16)
Hardeman Stuart (15)
Fitz Lee (6)
Bushby (4)
Stonewall Jackson (3)
Bob Sweeney (2)
Channing Price (2)
Moss (2)
Madden (2)
William Lee (2)
Green (2)
Eales (2)
Bowling (2)
Willis (1)
Turner (1)
Stonewall (1)
Rosser (1)
Newton (1)
Mosby (1)
Letcher (1)
Francis Lawley (1)
Dr Fontaine (1)
Redmond Burke (1)
Bramston (1)
Antoinette (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
February (3)
April 9th (1)
March 15th (1)
March (1)
January (1)
17th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: